Exclusive – A new white from Delas: Saint-Joseph Blanc ‘Sainte-Épine’ 2014

Delas Sainte Epine Blanc

It’s not every day you get to witness the birth of a new star. That’s why I wanted to share with you a wine I’ve just tasted. I was researching an article a few months ago when I heard about an experimental new cuvée from Rhône negociant house Delas. Their red Saint Joseph ‘Sainte-Épine’ has been enjoying some very favourable reviews recently, and winemaker Claire Darnaud-McKerrow told me she was making a new white cuvée from the same vineyard. “This wine is for us a kind of homage to previous generations of vignerons,” she said “who made great wines without any modern technology… and the result exceeds my expectations.” She sent me a bottle: they exceeded mine too.

Key info

  • Marsanne (probably co-planted with Roussanne but tiny percentage)
  • 13% ABV
  • Grown on granite soils in the lieu-dit Sainte-Épine in Saint-Joseph, Northern Rhône
  • Approximately 40-year-old vines
  • Yields of less than 20 hl/ha in 2014
  • Natural ferment
  • Production: just one barrel (228 litres)

Tasting note

Fairly closed on the nose for now, just some pear, quince, celery and honeysuckle rising up. Full-bodied, weighty and intense on the palate, with low acidity, and layers of flavour that spread out after swallowing. Butter, honey, hazelnut and a very firm core of fresh orchard fruit. Very rich indeed, very full but mouthwatering on the finish, very moreish. The acidity doesn’t quite match the intense fullness and richness of body, but the saline, mineral edge on the finish makes up for this. In this sense it could perhaps be better balanced, but I’m picking holes in what is a very impressive wine. And it’s very long. The oak dominates a little right now, but it doesn’t mask the fruit – I predict the two will be in perfect harmony in a couple of years or so. So young, but this new cuvée has potential greatness written all over it. 94 points.

With only 300 bottles made, finding a bottle won’t be easy (your best bet is to speak to their UK importer Berkmann Wine Cellars) but they are hoping to increase production in 2015. The 2014 sits immediately amongst some of the best white Saint-Josephs on the market. Fans of the style should keep an eye out.

Additional info from Claire for fellow geeks

“The grapes for this white grow on a different block of those for our singe vineyard ‘Sainte-Épine’ red, but they are only about 200m apart. It is an old south-west facing block, on which the whites grow on the bottom of the block, meaning that they are shaded by the next hillside from the burning late afternoon sun. In regards to winemaking, we basically used opposite techniques to the rest of our white range. Where normally we would cool the grapes overnight, press them with dry ice protection and sulphur the must in the press tray, for this the grapes get pressed warm, with no dry ice and no sulphur until after débourbage (settling). The must was filled to a one-year-old barrel and left to ferment naturally over about three weeks. It is full malo and we left it on its ferment lees until about two weeks prior to bottling… What makes the ‘Sainte-Epine’ vineyards so interesting is that when you look at a very detailed map, you will see, that the steep granitic slopes are in fact directly aligned with the Hermitage hill. In fact it is the Rhône that separated both parts when it changed its course during the last ice age.”